“Science experiments” with boiling water on a cold day

It seems that we get extraordinarily cold mornings on New Years Day. It was -17°F for a low temperature in Bellemont, Arizona today. Two years ago, on New Years Day 2011, it was -30°F. Both times we had fun tossing boiling water into the air and watching it freeze before it hits the ground.

Yeah, sure, folks up north do this all the time in the winter. But, remember, this is Arizona!

Boiling water tossed in the air and freezing before hitting the ground.
Boiling water tossed in the air and freezing before hitting the ground.

 

For a brief explanation on the physics of this process see the two links below.

Physics and Chemistry of Fresh Water

Which freezes faster, hot water or cold water?

And here’s a video from two years ago.

30 Below Zero in Northern Arizona

Yes — it does get this cold in northern Arizona from time to time. Not often, though.

This morning (01 January 2011) the temperature fell to -30°F in Bellemont, Arizona, where the National Weather Service office is located. At the Flagstaff airport it reached -19°F and the Grand Canyon National Park airport fell to -28°F. Even colder was the automated site at Greenbase, located between Williams and Parks, which fell to an astounding -38°F.

The record for this date in Flagstaff is -21°F (1919) and the coldest temperature ever recorded in Arizona is -40°F at Hawley Lake (07 January 1971).

So what can you do when it is that cold outside? Well, you can toss a cup of boiling water in the air to see what happens!

Boiling water and frigid air. An interesting combination.
Boiling water and frigid air. An interesting combination.

Video here.

First, the boiling water flashes to steam then the vapor freezes into small ice and snow crystals. For some detailed explanation of how this happens, check out these two links:

Physics and Chemistry of Fresh Water

Which freezes faster, hot water or cold water?

By early afternoon, the temperature had risen to 25°F resulting in a range of 55°F in just a few hours!